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How can SAP Configurable Materials' functionality reduce master data clutter?

Creating an endless list of new material codes can lead to a raft of master data problems. SAP Configurable Materials' functionality can help.

How can SAP Configurable Materials reduce master data clutter?

Master data managers face seemingly endless requests from business users for material codes, information that's kept as a part of the organization's master data. Often these materials differ only slightly, but because they differ at all, master data managers have no choice but to continue creating new material codes for every variation of a product, which leads to enormous master data clutter. Configurable Materials is a functionality that allows master data managers to create one single material code for a basic product, and variations of that code for corresponding variations of the product itself (these variations are also called "variants"). That means managers can avoid having to create reams of new product or material codes, and can cut down on the amount of master data confusion and clutter.

For example, there might be a company that makes whiteboard markers, which of course it sells and uses internally. Instead of creating a separate material code in the system for each marker color, one Configurable Material code for a marker with a variation for each of the different colors can be used. When business users need a specific color of markers, all they have to do is choose the right code variation. New variations can be added as new colors become available, and then deleted as needed if the company discontinues that corresponding product (see Figure 1). If using Configurable Materials can organize master data clutter by reducing six variations of a marker to just one, imagine what it can do when a company uses thousands of low- to mid-value materials, each with dozens, or even hundreds of variations of their own? Using Configurable Materials reduces master data maintenance efforts, while also allowing companies to have complete visibility of every variant of a product.

Companies also use Configurable Materials' functionality to cater to the diverse tastes and ever-changing needs of their customers and their own products' offerings, but without resorting to creating a huge slush pile of material codes in the SAP ERP system. Automobile companies extensively use this functionality. When you walk into a Ford dealership to book a new car, the salesperson offers an endless array of options (variants) to choose from -- color of the car, manual or automatic transmission, two doors hatch back or four doors, with or without sunroof, choice of seat covers – all of which are managed using Configurable Materials' functionality.

Figure 1 is a Configurable Material with material code 2878 for a color marker. In the lower half, three marker colors are available for business users to choose from. In short, choosing a product variant is a two-step process. In this case, the user selects the base code (2878) for a basic, generic color marker. As soon as the user does this, he or she gets three new codes to choose from (in this case). The user then selects one of the product variation codes from the drop-down list.

Figure 1: Configurable Materials code for a color marker and its three color variations
Figure 1: Configurable Materials code for a color marker and its three color variations

About the author:
Jawad Akhtar is the head of SAP delivery in AbacusConsulting, and a frequent writer and trainer on SAP logistics and supply chain management issues and modules. He is also the author of the SAP PRESS book Production Planning and Control with SAP ERP.

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